«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
For Company administrators who traveled to India during the eighteenth century, there was a real fear that the Britons under their authority living in the subcontinent would be swallowed up and made to disappear, their European identity consumed by the ancient civilization of India. In contrast to the later Victorian stereotype of Britons and Indians living in strictly separate worlds that did not meet, there were no such rigid cultural divisions in the eighteenth century, and a great many Europeans responded to India by crossing over from one culture to another.22 This was a period of surprisingly widespread cultural assimilation and hybridity, with virtually all Europeans in the subcontinent Indianizing themselves to some extent. Britons were able to self-fashion their own fluid identities, moving back and forth between European and Indian identities Philip Stern. The Company-State: Corporate Sovereignty and the Early Modern Foundation of the British Empire in India (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); Lucy Stuart Sutherland. The East India Company in Eighteenth-Century Politics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952) Edmund Burke. “Speech on Opening of Impeachment 15, 16, 18, 19 February 1788” in The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, Vol. 6. Peter Marshall (ed.) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981) William Dalrymple.
It was very common in the eighteenth century for Europeans to serve in the armies of native Indian rulers, particularly as technical experts for use in servicing artillery and designing fortifications.24 This was aided and abetted by a widespread Enlightenment respect of Asian civilizations up until the close of the eighteenth century, without the presence of the highly racialized worldview which would come to characterize the nineteenth century.25 Many European political thinkers of this period attacked the very foundations of imperialism, arguing passionately that empire-building was not only unworkable, costly, and dangerous, but manifestly unjust. They held that moral judgments of cultural superiority could not be made about entire peoples, nor many of their cultural practices.26 The situation of Europeans in other parts of the world was also far from secure.
Britons overseas were often captured, subjected to alien laws and customs, forced to live in conditions of terror and vulnerability; these uncomfortable situations were also an important part of the early imperial project which would later be written out of the British historical memory.27 The task of governing and policing the territories conquered by the East India Company was constantly undermined by these anxieties, the fear that Britons Maya Jasanoff. Edge of Empire: Lives, Culture, and Conquest in the East, 1750-1850 (New York: Knopf, 2005) Pradeep Barua. “Military Developments in India, 1750-1850” in The Journal of Military History, Vol. 58, No. 4 (1994): 599-616 Holden Furber. Rival Empires of Trade in the Orient. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1976): 338 Sankar Muthu. Enlightenment Against Empire. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003) Linda Colley. Captives: Britain, Empire, and the World 1600-1850 (New York: Pantheon Books, 2002) would be allured by the temptations of India into "going native", and would renounce their European identity in favor of a new Indian one. It was this very belief that sons of Britain had been seduced and corrupted by the luxuries of the east which was responsible for the consternation over the nabobs in the metropole.28 The growing British empire in India therefore existed in an ideological quandary.
The "Protestant, maritime, commercial, and free" empire as conceived by the British clearly did not describe the Company's military dominion in India, and the type of rule being practiced by the Company appeared to be despotic in nature, due to the way in which it ignored private property and had no representative assemblies.29 As the eighteenth century drew to a close, therefore, there was a growing need for a new legitimation of empire. Thus, for example, in the immediate aftermath of the Company's conquest of Bengal, policymakers sought to justify their actions by referencing India's Mughal past, in particular through the claim that they were working in accordance with the region's own "ancient constitution." According to this frame of thought, the Company was merely reestablishing Bengal's old system of government, which had fallen into disuse.30 However, the attempt to rehabilitate the ancient constitution of Bengal and represent the Mughal Empire as a state that respected law and property was ultimately too restricting and confusing to gain popular acceptance.
Instead, during a transitional period between roughly 1780-1830, the British nation came to embrace a new despotism of law underpinned by racial segregation and Philip Lawson and Jim Phillips. “‘Our Execrable Banditti’” in Albion XVI (1984): 226 Richard Koebner. “Despot and Despotism: Vicissitudes of a Political Term” in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 1951 14 (3/4): 275-302; Franco Venturi. “Oriental Despotism” in Journal of the History of Ideas 1963 24 (1): 133-42
Robert Travers. Ideology and Empire in Eighteenth Century India: The British in Bengal (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 2007) rule of force, which was increasingly justified by Europe's supposedly higher place on the ladder of civilization.31 The earlier scandals of empire were erased from the British historical memory and became remembered as a natural stage in the colonization process;
the scandals associated with the nabobs allowed empire to be reformed, its problems "solved", and its structure institutionalized.32 At its most basic level, empire was justified to the British public through shifting the burden of culpability for any wrongdoings from unscrupulous British actors, such as the nabobs, onto immoral and savage Indian actors, such as Tipu Sultan. Beginning in the late eighteenth century, Enlightenment approval for the stability of Asian civilizations began to be replaced by a chorus of vilification of Indians for their supposed corruption. It was the immoral and tyrannical actions of Indian merchants and princes who were undermining the Company's rule overseas, not the servants of the Company themselves.33 These claims had begun earlier, when Company merchants had portrayed the rule of Bengal's nawabs as a ruthless despotism moved by the will of an irresponsible tyrant, and would only grow in intensity towards the close of the eighteenth century.34 The Second British Empire that was under construction beginning in this period was characterized by increasingly aristocratic and autocratic forms of rule, in which hierarchy and racial subordination were stressed.35 Within the East India Company's administrative structure, the creation of the Board of Control and Governor Generalship Ibid, 29-30 Nicholas Dirks. The Scandal of Empire (2006): 26-31 C. A. Bayly. Indian Society and the Making of the British Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988): 77-78 Peter Marshall. Bengal: The British Bridgehead. Eastern India 1740-1828 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988): 67 Vincent Harlow. The Founding of the Second British Empire (London, New York: Longmans and Green, 1952); C.A. Bayly. Imperial Meridian: The British Empire and the World, 1780-1830 (London: Longman, 1989) centralized power, shifting authority away from councils of merchants and towards hereditary aristocrats with military backgrounds appointed by the government.36 As the eighteenth century gave way to the nineteenth, formerly loose attitudes about Europeans crossing over and adopting Indian customs came under increasing official criticism, due to pressure from Christian missionary groups and new ideas of racial and ethnic hierarchies.37 Britain's turn to empire in this period was characterized by a vastly increased sense of cultural or civilizational confidence, in contrast to earlier thinkers who had been doubtful of their country's achievements and showed greater respect for other non-European peoples.38 The rise of empire was linked together with the rise of liberalism; the universalist tendencies inherent in political liberalism lent themselves towards viewing history and civilizations as moving forward through progressive stages of development. Britons infantilized Indians and other colonial peoples by putting them at an earlier stage of development, in need of tutoring by paternalistic British parents.39 The growth of this liberal imperialism, which began at the end of the eighteenth century, coincided with increasingly exclusive conceptions of the national community and political capacity, frequently based on biological difference, along with the widespread use of crude dichotomies between barbarity and civilization.40 Humanitarian movements designed to help colonial peoples declined during the nineteenth century, due to a growing belief in polygenesis and separate unrelated racial stocks.41 Imperialism was Philip Lawson. The East India Company: A History (London: Longman, 1993): 141-42 William Dalrymple. White Mughals (2003): 36-41
Jennifer Pitts. A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2005) Uday Singh Mehta. Liberalism and Empire: A Study in Nineteenth-Century British Liberal Thought (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1999) Jennifer Pitts. A Turn to Empire (2005): 2 Catherine Hall. Civilizing Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination, 1830-1867 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002) also tied to the growth of Romanticism, which made frequent use of colonial peoples and themes as subject matter, with one historian suggesting that the two subjects were linked too closely to be understood in isolation from one another.42 Early Romantic writers addressing the subject of the Orient were full of deep anxieties about the building of empire; later Victorians misread these fears as mere masquerade over imperial support.43 In this fashion, early Romantic writings which had been skeptical of overseas colonization were reinterpreted as advocates for the civilizing mission. Even the performances on the London stage in this period shifted from a focus on inward-looking critiques of the nation to forms of spectacle that emphasized cultural and racial supremacy. Audiences were encouraged to shed distinct ethnic and political affiliations in favor of militaristic, heterosexual, and white definitions of national unity.44 Within this transitional period of shifting popular opinions about empire, the decade of the 1790s was perhaps the most important in changing British perceptions of overseas rule. In earlier decades, there was little sign that opinion in the metropole regarded Britain's role in India as anything other than commercial, nor was there much coherent drive for empire by Company servants on the subcontinent.45 However, by the last decade of the eighteenth century, "a real transformation of attitudes had taken place", with empire viewed no longer as a source of contamination for the body politic, but an
Saree Makdisi. Romantic Imperialism: Universal Empire and the Culture of Modernity (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1998) Nigel Leask. British Romantic Writers and the East: Anxieties of Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) Daniel O’Quinn. Staging Governance: Theatrical Imperialism in London, 1770-1800 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) Peter Marshall.. “British Expansion in India in the Eighteenth Century: A Historical Revision”, History 1975 60 (198): 37 opportunity to do good overseas.46 Company servants were no longer viewed by the public as avaricious nabobs, but as long-serving experts and administrators, often with some kind of military background. Company soldiers were embraced by the public as patriotic heroes, with Lord Cornwallis' reception in the metropole during the 1790s serving as one particularly choice example. The Governor General was greeted as a conquering hero, feted with lavish celebrations, and showered with honors from all sides.
The shift in public perception compared to the earlier scorn and condemnation faced by Clive and Hastings indicated the changing mood regarding imperial exploits in the British metropole.